Baker dismissed for not washing his hands

A Greggs’ baker was dismissed for gross misconduct for failing to wash his hands when entering the food production area of the famous bakery.

In the case of Donovan v Greggs Plc, D had been employed by Greggs for over 11 years before his dismissal. When re-entering the food production area, D had failed to wash his hands. Greggs dismissed D for gross misconduct on the basis that it has a zero-tolerance attitude towards breach of its strict hygiene rules.

D later brought a claim for unfair dismissal. He admitted to not having washed his hands in violation of Greggs’ policy. However, he argued that this was a ‘lapse’ and that the decision to dismiss him could not be classed as a reasonable response.

At Tribunal, Greggs’ operations manager confirmed that the consequence of not complying with Greggs’ strict hygiene rules was ‘potentially lethal’ i.e. that there was a risk to the public from contaminated goods.

Following the evidence, the Employment Tribunal (ET) rejected D’s claim and held that Greggs’ decision did fall within the ‘band of reasonable responses’ and was, therefore, fair.

In assessing the ‘band of reasonable responses’ test, a tribunal will consider the employer’s conduct, as opposed to the potential injustice to the employee.  Here, while D had worked at the company for over 11 years and while he had made what could be seen as an honest mistake, his actions were capable of constituting gross misconduct under Greggs’ hygiene policy.  On this basis, provided that Greggs follow a fair process in carrying out the disciplinary process, dismissal for breaching the policy was within the band of reasonable responses. Also, the tribunal also took into consideration the consequences of D’s failure to wash his hands which undoubtedly would also have had some impact on its decision.

This case demonstrates how broad the ‘band of reasonable responses’ test can be.  On the face of it, while a decision may seem unduly harsh on the employee concerned, if there is a reasonable reason for the employer to dismiss, the decision can fall within the band of reasonable responses and therefore be considered fair.

Ceri Brown, HR Consultant at Capital, said “All employees in these types of situations are trained on and constantly reminded of the hygiene regulations.  Food safety is the most important thing at the bakery. Employees cannot fail to appreciate the importance of washing their hands and is the last thing that they do before entering the food production area. The company looks upon these incidents as potentially ‘brand damaging’.”